Here is Alter’s translation of these final verses in the narrative:
“And the LORD God said, Now that the human has become like one of us, knowing good and evil, he may reach out and take as well from the tree of life and live forever.” And the LORD God sent him from the garden of Eden to till the soil from which he had been taken. And he drove out the human and set up east of the garden of Eden the cherubim and the flame of the whirling sword to guard the way to the tree of life.”
Here is the NIV translation:
“And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.”
1. First of all, I don’t know who designed the reading schedule and left so much material to cram into the final week. They should have planned ahead better.
2. “And the LORD God said . . . ” If I’m not mistaken, this is the first time in this narrative that God addresses a heavenly “us” not identified in the story. We get such a move in 1:26, but nowhere else in chapters 2 or 3. How this “us” gets read and identified will, I think, profoundly inflect one’s interpretation of the rest of the story. An “us” referring to heavenly parents (both genders!) is a very different context from a “royal” we or a heavenly council of angels or a Holy Trinity. But the “us” is left undefined. (The New Interpreter’s Bible commentary refers to this, of course, as “inner-divine communication.”)
3. “The man has become like one of us . . . ” Is the “man” here to be understood as a proper name, as a general name (human) referring to Adam in particular, as a general name referring to both Adam and Eve, or as a general name referring to all human beings? If it just refers to Adam, why? Why does Eve get left aside?
Is Adam (a single person) here becoming like some ONE else (another single person)? Or is Adam (a single person) here becoming a like an “us” (i.e., a plurality of persons)? Has Adam himself been split and multiplied by the acquisition of knowledge? Knowledge itself certainly requires the ability to adopt multiple points of view which aren’t necessary compatible in any simple way with one another. (Rosalynde knows about this one: ask her :)
4. “. . . has become . . .” Is the verb here the most important part of the sentence? Meaning: is the most important thing here not that the man has become X, but that the man has just plain started to become? Of course, this observation touches a major nerve in the Western philosophical tradition, much of which is structured around Plato’s distinction between Being (good!) vs. Becoming (bad!). It’s not entirely clear, I would argue, in the Mormon tradition which side we take in the debate: is time real (and, hence, Becoming is real) or is time an illusion (and, hence, only Being is real)? Does a positive Mormon evaluation of temporality have a lot to do with a positive evaluation of what happens as a result of the fall?
5. ” . . . has become like one of us . . .” The way in which we’ve become “like” whoever the “us” is is specified: “like one of us, knowing good and evil.” Though, again, the “like” at work in this verse touches another major nerve in the history of Christian theology: what exactly is the nature of this analogical relationship? Or, more generally, there is the philosophical problem of deciding even what an analogy is or how analogies function. How one answers this question will depend on how one treats “universals” or “categories” or “classes” and on how one treats their construction and population. It’s not clear me that we have anything like a Mormon position on these kinds of questions. Which, in some ways, is nice. Because it means we’re free to experiment for ourselves with different metaphysical platforms and see what happens. The nature of the “like” is crucial.
6. “he may reach out and take as well from the tree of life and live forever . . .” There is an important difference here between Alter’s translation and the NIV. Where Alter translates all of vs. 22 as a single sentence, the NIV breaks it into two. The effect, in the former case is that there is a causal link between the first part (“man has become like one of us:) and the second part (“so he may now reach out and partake of the tree of life”). The connection, if legitimate, is obscured by the NIV’s version that splits the construction in two.
If there is a connection, what is it? Why is it that only now, after knowing good and evil, that the man might reach out and eat the fruit of the tree of life? Is the claim that the man couldn’t have done it before now? Or is the claim that it only matters whether he eats it or not now after he knows the difference and death has entered the picture? (We’d already noted the possibility that until now they may have already been eating of the fruit of the tree of life. Though that seems less likely, I think, in light of these verses.)
If the tree of life is read symbolically, then what kind of reading would we give of it? If there was no actual fruit for the man to risk eating, then what is the X to which the fruit refers? What is God protecting us from? What X in our daily recapitulation of this story is guarded from us by way of the flaming sword? What’s the flaming sword? It seems much easier to give a naturalized existential/developmental reading of what happens with the fruit of TTOK than of the fruit of TTOL.
7. “. . . banished from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken . . .” Does the “take” in vs. 22 echo in any meaningful the “take” in 23 (it’s the same word in Hebrew)? Are they intertwined, contrasted? Is there irony at work here? Is it ironic (or not?) that the man, by way of his banishment, will be able now to fulfill the purpose originally given to him?
Banished may actually be a little strong of a translation for the Hebrew here that Alter, showing more restraint, translates simply as “sent.” Adam here is one who is “sent” out into the world. This word, of course, also has serious resonances for Christians in that an “apostle” is literally one who is sent. Should Adam here be associated with an apostle/angel insofar as he is “sent by God himself out into the world”?
8. “. . . at the east of the Garden of Eden . . .” Why does only the east side of the Garden need guarded? Can’t you get in from any of the other three sides?
9. I wish I had something cool to say about cherubim or flaming swords, but I really don’t. But I’d love to here something about it. Consider yourselves tasked!